Thousands of people took to the streets of the Hungarian capital to protest ahead of a vote in parliament on Tuesday (15 June) on a package of laws lumping sexual minorities in with paedophiles and seeking to erase homosexuality and trans people from schools and advertisements.
Organisers said 10,000 people demonstrated in front of the Hungarian parliament building against the bill, which if adopted would ban the “portrayal and promotion of gender identity different from sex assigned at birth, the change of sex and homosexuality” in schools, media content and adverts aimed at under-18s.
The amendments targeting the LGBTQI community, introduced unexpectedly last week, are to be voted on together with a bill introducing tougher penalties for paedophilia and sexual abuse of children.
Tamás Dombos, one of the organisers and board member at Háttér Society, an LGBTQI civil society organisation, said the government was targeting the community now “because political capital can no longer be forged on the refugee issue, the migration issue, a new image of the enemy was needed.”
The LGBTQI community is facing an increasingly hostile environment in the country following a series of moves taking aim at so-called rainbow families, including changes made to Hungary’s constitution in November which defined parents as “mother – a woman, the father – a man”.
Hungary also barred citizens from legally changing their gender early last year and introduced legislation that would limit adoption to married couples, cutting paths to adoption for gay couples.
Politicians first sought to link child abuse and homosexuals in May 2019, when parliament speaker László Kövér said at “in the moral sense, there is no difference between a pedophile” and those who demand the right to adopt for gay couples.
Dombos said that the government had been pushing the link ever since, adding he believes that the pressure on sexual and gender minorities will only keep growing.
“I think unfortunately yes, it’s already part of the election campaign, they’re trying to find a topic with which they can mobilise their core base,” he told EURACTIV.
“We fear that in the next year, this will be one of the main issues in the election, not to talk about corruption or the dismantling of democratic institutions, but about gays, towards whom, unfortunately, there is resentment in Hungarian society,” he added.
The bill may also destabilise the delicate opposition coalition, which many see as the only way for opponents of the government to win parliamentary elections in 2022.
All of Hungary’s six biggest oppositions parties – the socialist MSZP, centre-left DK, the green LMP and Párbeszéd, the liberal Momentum and Jobbik – have previously agreed to put forward only one candidate against ruling Fidesz in all 106 electoral districts, along with a joint prime ministerial candidate, a common electoral programme and a common list.
The far-right-turned-conservative Jobbik has already said they will vote for the controversial bill on Tuesday, but promised “after the elections, however, we will take out the off-topic parts of the law that Fidesz has deliberately smuggled in.”
Meanwhile, other oppositions parties said they will boycott the vote altogether.
“I think it was partly about driving a wedge between the opposition parties, it was also about putting the opposition parties in a place where they could be accused of being friends of paedophiles, paedophile supporters, because they didn’t vote for the anti-paedophile bill,” Dombos said, adding that there was an EU dimension to the issue.
According to the activist, the rules that would prevent LGBTQI-friendly commercial content would go against the bloc’s media regulation and breach the free movement of goods and services.
Dombos said “the EU must put its foot down” but also make clear ”the serious fundamental problems with this government in Hungary. Not political problems, but problems that violate fundamental principles.”
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]